Recently, I’ve been reminiscing about events in my life that took place about one year ago: late spring blizzards, the arrival of my second nephew, and anticipation for an upcoming trip to Iceland. While we battled through the first and celebrated the second, my husband and I were busy preparing for the third. As we gathered our travel gear and counted down the days to our adventure abroad, I’m sure we were not alone in this world as people prepare for flight – or travel of any kind – for work and pleasure. Now, just a simple trip to the grocery store is as momentous as a journey to another hemisphere. If restrictions on travel will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19, I understand they should be followed. But some people, including myself, are following them with forced smiles as the endless days of working from home and not venturing beyond our county borders threaten our sanity with monotony. Thank goodness technology can provide some relief as it allows us to connect to people, be entertained, and learn new things. For example, a current trend on Facebook is to post a picture of someplace you have been but without yourself in the picture. Small contribution though it might be, I decided to provide a little distraction from the current doom and gloom by sharing one of my favorite pictures from the aforementioned Iceland trip and dedicating this post to some of the memorable meat dishes hubby and I encountered in the land of ice and fire.
Fermented shark (Hákarl)
Featured in nearly every travel video about Iceland on YouTube, the fermented shark is considered a delicacy or even everyday snack for Icelanders, though in earlier times it was survival food. Flesh of the Greenland shark is essentially poisonous in its fresh form. A long fermentation process removes chemicals built up in the shark’s meat, rendering it safe to eat. After this, strips of meat are hung outside and allowed to air dry (pictured to the left at the Bjarnarhöfn Shark Museum in Bjarnarhöfn, Iceland). After the drying step, the crust is cut off the white cheese-like meat which smells faintly of ammonia. Traditionally, a cube of hákarl is washed down with a swig of brennivin, the iconic Icelandic spirt.
The small fishing town of Höfn on the east coast is known as the “Lobster Capital of Iceland.” When we visited this charming town, we did not lack for restaurants serving fresh seafood, and hubby ordered a surf and turf dish featuring langoustines. Langoustines resemble lobsters but only grow to a maximum 10 inches in length, and their shells do not change color when they are cooked (Majumdar, 2014). The treasures from the sea pictured to the left paired well with a bottle of Vatnajökull beer made from Jökulsárlón icebergs and locally grown Arctic thyme.
Pylsur – the “Icelandic hot dog”
The comfort food perfect for any meal: a juicy combination of Icelandic lamb, pork, and beef stuffed into a natural lamb casing is served on a steamed bun and topped with ketchup, fried onions, pylsusinnep (akin to a sweet brown mustard), and remoulade, a sauce made with herbs, capers, mayonnaise, and mustard (Icelandair Hotels, 2014). We snagged ours from the world-famous Bæjarins Beztu stand in Reykjavik and paired them with, well, Diet Coke.
Okay, so this one’s a bit of a cheat. In Hofn, I enjoyed a delicious reindeer burger, and then – ignorant foreigner as I was – asked the server about the source of the meat. He waffled a bit, so I did not have a concrete answer. Later I learned that in Iceland, settlers tried reindeer farming in the late 18th century, but the animals did not thrive in the harsh environment (Iceland Magazine, 2019). A population of about 7,000 wild reindeer still resides in Iceland, and hunters are issued approximately 1,200 tags per year. I would call it a stretch to imagine a restaurant relying on the luck of hunters to supply the main ingredient for a featured item, so I doubt the wild reindeer we saw on our travels would eventually be served on a bun with a side of fries.
Sadly, we were not able to try all the meat dishes Iceland has to offer including boiled sheep’s head, puffin, and ptarmagin. But, perhaps, when we can fly again one day, we will return to that beautiful island and taste these dishes so important to the Icelandic culture.
Iceland Magazine (16 Jan. 2019). The store of the wild reindeer herds in the Eastfjords. Iceland Magazine. Retrieved from https://icelandmag.is/article/story-wild-reindeer-herds-eastfjords.
Icelandair Hotels (2014). Iceland hot dogs – everything you wanted to know. Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.icelandairhotels.com/magazine/blog/everything-you-wanted-to-know-about-the-icelandic-hot-dog-mag.
Majumdar, S. (2014). Everything you need to know about langoustines. FN Dish. Retrieved from https://www.foodnetwork.com/fn-dish/how-to/2014/07/everything-you-need-to-know-about-langoustines.